Charles Nevin: News from Elsewhere

Saints preserve us! Why hanging baskets, DIY and county fairs are the staples of national life
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The Independent Online

Hello, hello, welcome. Today, you know, is the 186th anniversary of the day that Keats went off for a walk and came back muttering to himself, "Hmm, yes, mists, mellow, not bad, but will pears and things scan?", before sitting down and dashing off To Autumn. Marvellous, especially when you consider that Virgil, or it might have been Ovid, wrote only one line a day.

If John hadn't been in such a hurry, he would also, I fancy, have had second thoughts about those mourning gnats in the third stanza, but then the poor chap didn't have long to go before that sad death by the Spanish Steps, far from home, and with, if today is anything to go by, the most tremendous racket going on outside.

Perhaps, too, he would have got round to mentioning that other essential English harbinger of summer's end and winter's threat, the dwindling and wistful hanging baskets, now moving forlornly to their last dribble down the back of your neck because you hadn't noticed they'd just been watered.

Did you see, by the way, our report about the lady in Somerset who had to take hers down because they were too low? Upsetting, I'll allow, but just let me pose this scenario: low hanging basket, pedestrian distracted by mourning gnat, fast approaching pavement cyclist. Soil everywhere would be the least of it. Besides, the conflict between hanging-basket fanciers and local councils is a traditional feature of our national life.

What I liked best about this one was Somerset County Council's official hanging basket height: at least 2.1 metres above the pavement. When I inquired about this, I was told by a charming council spokeswoman that it was based on a modification of the old official measure, which had itself been based on the average height of a policeman, in helmet, running.

Worth protecting and preserving, this sort of thing, I should have said. And, on preserves, I really must congratulate the judges at the Gawsworth Produce Show in Macclesfield, who put Mrs Sandra Moss's tomato chutney in second place despite it being the only entry. This was because they judged it not good enough for first place, and Mrs Moss agreed. There are standards. Which is why I shall not be telling you yet again the one about the tomato blushing because it saw the salad dressing.

Patron saint of DIY

I will, though, tell you about another threat, this one to another ancient right, that of erecting our own shelves badly. DIY in decline, B&Q stores closing, etc. Doing my bit, I have attempted to discover the patron saint of DIY with a view to a special appeal.

But not with much success. The saint who has been handed the hardware brief, for example, is St Sebastian, the one pierced by all the arrows, which doesn't seem terribly helpful even if it does display that sense of, well, irony which distinguished earlier Christianity. Slightly more apt is St Eustochia of Messina, who mortified her flesh with a rack she'd made herself; otherwise, I can offer St Michael (Battles), or St Agatha (Volcanic Eruptions); I would suggest Eustace (Difficult Situations), particularly as tomorrow is his feast day, but I notice that one of his pet aversions was people biting their nails.

No, for more practical help and inspiration, the ailing industry should perhaps look east and to a bold marketing strategy being pioneered in Poland, where the Bepol DIY shop in Elblag is offering an hour in a nearby brothel to customers who spend more than £2,000. The manager got the idea after the brothel owner came in to buy some paintbrushes. But I'm not so sure about it, as, to my reckoning, that's at least 40 angle grinders or 502 square metres of laminate flooring.

In Croatia, meanwhile, there's a new reality show starring seven sheep living in a house in Zagreb. There is. They have books read to them and viewers can vote on which one to eject each week. Could work very well here. I'd recommend anything by Thomas Hardy, Lamb's Tales, Trollope's Barsetshire stuff, As You Like It, but probably not that unsettling work by T E Lawrence, The Mint, or any Virginia Woolf, come to that. Baa-setshire. As Ewe Like It. All right, all right, suit yourself.

Smelling a rat

Sheep. Rats. It's a link of sorts. Anyway, I was rather taken by the Rat Surveillance Department in New Delhi, which employs 97 rat catchers, who haven't caught a rat since 1994. Can you imagine that here? Mind you, we did have the Hutton Inquiry, which didn't even smell one. And then there's the Tories, who haven't done anything since 1997. Which reminds me: Sydney has just chosen its deputy mayor by drawing the name from a hat. They could use Ken's.

Staying in India, here's some far eastern sports news. First, Yak-skiing. The skier, holding a bucket of nuts, is at the bottom of the hill, attached to a yak at the top by a long rope. The skier rattles the bucket loudly to infuriate the yak, which then charges down, yanking the skier rapidly uphill. Splendid, although I'm not sure why the yak should be quite so infuriated, unless they're his nuts.

Next, Elephant Polo, Bangkok: Scotland 6, Thailand 5. Perhaps the Australians could see if they're any good at either of those.